Senators not content with scrapping of peace panel

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 03 2008 08:47 PM | Updated as of Sep 04 2008 04:47 AM

Several senators said Wednesday they are not content with Malacañang's decision to dissolve the government peace panel negotiating with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) after it was "misled" into nearly signing the Muslim homeland agreement in Malaysia last August 5.

Senator Mar Roxas believes the President's decision to dissolve its peace panel is yet another attempt by the government to conceal the truth about its territorial agreement with the MILF.

Roxas noted the government and the MILF were supposed to sign the Memorandum of Agreemen on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) about a month ago, had it not been opposed before the Supreme Court.

"Talaga naman itong Malacañang, makaiwas-pusoy lang noong nakita na nila na yung ating mga kababayan ay kontrang-kontra dito sa masikreto at maanomalyang MOA na ito. Sabay ilag, hindi raw nabasa ng Pangulo, hindi raw authorized itong mga negosyador. At ngayon, binuwag na lang ang buong peace process," He said.

Roxas, among the petitioners against the agreement, added that this shows the government's changing policies on the peace agreement.

After the petition was filed before the Supreme Court, the government then declared it was no longer signing the agreement and urged the justices not to continue with its investigation.

Roxas said despite these attempts by the government to cover the truth behind the deal, it is imperative that the public know the truth behind the MOA.

Only logical 
 
Administration Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago said the dissolution of the peace panel was a "very logical development because the government has already announced that it is not going to sign the MOA-AD."

"The continued subsistence of the panel would be contradictory. Plus, there is a need to reconstitute the panel at some future time in order to allow other sectors of government such as the legislative branch to play a role in that process. Because whatever the outcome, any document to be signed by the representatives of the two panels would have to pass the Senate for it to be enforceable.  It would be a treaty in effect," she said.

Santiago suggested that the new peace panel with the MILF should be more balanced, noting that the previous panel was dominated by retired generals.

"There is a need to balance military personalities and members from other sectors of the government like the legislative branch, particularly the Senate, that takes a broader overview of the situation, not just vanquishing the rebels," she said. 

'Palace lacks action'

Meanwhile, Senators Rodolfo Biazon and Francis Escudero both said that the Palace lacks action regarding the peace talks, and criticized the continued presence of Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Hermogenes Esperon despite his role in the formation of the failed MOA.

"Esperon managed to lose credibility, not only the credibility of the panel but as far as the President itself. How can we expect an honest-to-goodness peace talks if the one conducting or orchestrating it has no credibility among all sectors concerned?" Biazon said.

"Sana kasabay ng pag-abolish ng peace panel ay ang pagtanggal na rin kay Esperon for a job not well done. Ang kailangan lamang natin na maging head ng peace panel hindi yong nag-i-eksperto-ekspertohan, kundi isang taong magaling na administrador at manager at na kayang pagsama-samahin at mag-facilitate sa mga usaping pangkapayaan sa local level," Escudero said.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel, meanwhile, said the peace panel should not have been dissolved, and those involved in drawing up the agreement should be held accountable, especially that the failure of the agreement has sowed violence in the south.

Panel dissolved after being 'misled'

Earlier, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita formally announced Wednesday that President Arroyo had dissolved the government's peace panel with the MILF.

In a press conference, Ermita said the government would be forming a new government peace panel with the MILF, but future talks would depend on whether the separatist group would commit to abide by the ceasefire agreement with the government and whether it would turn over two rogue field commanders and other members who have staged violent attacks in North Cotabato, Lanao del Norte, and other provinces in the south.

Ermita said the decision to dissolve the peace panel was arrived at during a national security cluster Cabinet meeting in Nueva Ecija on Tuesday.

Mrs. Arroyo has ordered National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales to go on an official mission to Kuala Lumpur to officially inform the Malaysian government about the government's decision to dissolve the government's peace panel negotiating with the MILF.

The dissolution of the peace panel, headed by Ret. Gen. Rodolfo Rodolfo Garcia, was "effective immediately," he said.

Ermita said Gonzales will explain the background of the decision and also assure the Malaysian government, which has been acting as mediator, that the ceasefire will be maintained, the International Monitoring Team will continue, and that the current military operations are directed at the lawless elements of the MILF.

"All mechanisms within the peace process are in place, the ceasefire agreement will be maintained," the executive secretary said.

Ermita said stakeholders in the peace process will be asked to recommend the new members of the peace panel with the MILF.

The new peace panel will pursue talks consistent with President Arroyo's new peace policy where disarming, disbandment, and reintegration of armed rebel forces will be "front loaded" in the negotiations.

The new approach to the peace talks will be followed not just by the peace panel with the MILF but also the other government peace panels talking peace with Communist rebels and other armed groups.

Ermita said the government wants "fresh ideas from fresh people" who can suggest "fresh approaches" that will lead to a "successful conclusion" of peace talks with the MILF. --With reports from Lynda Jumilla, ABS-CBN News